The Impact of Pediatric OCD on the Whole Family

A study published in the March 17, 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry  concludes that pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder negatively affects not only the children who suffer from it, but also their parents.

At the risk of sounding snarky, I (and anyone who has a child with OCD) could’ve told you that.

Still, well-conducted studies, as opposed to anecdotal evidence, are important. If nothing else, they give clinicians and researchers concrete information to reference, study and build upon in their quest to understand OCD and how to best help those whose lives are affected by it.

The study had a good number of participants – 354 youth and their parents. As I read each finding in the abstract, I nodded in agreement, as my family (when my son Dan was dealing with severe OCD) fit the profile of those in the study to a tee.

Not surprisingly, OCD is marked by disrupted routines, stressful social interactions for the children, and poor job performance for the parents. Everyone in the family had elevated stress and anxiety levels, though I found it interesting that there is no specific mention of siblings. As far as I know, siblings were not part of the study, but of course they are also affected by having a brother or sister with OCD. While the children with OCD often felt frustration and anger, their parents were more likely to describe feelings of sadness. I, and I’m sure many of you out there, can relate to that!

Some points that I found interesting include the finding that parents often did not recognize the extent of their child’s suffering, particularly in regard to academics and socialization. We know that those with OCD can be good at hiding how they are truly feeling. Thinking back to my son Dan’s ordeal, I now realize that when I thought things were not “that bad,” they really were. Additionally, mothers seemed to be more negatively impacted by their child’s OCD than fathers were. This could be due to many factors, including the fact that mothers typically (though not always) spend more time with their children.

To me, the most important conclusion of this study by far is the fact that the more parents accommodated and enabled their children, the more the entire family became impaired.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might know that this is one of my pet peeves: Parents and loved ones need to be educated about how to properly deal with OCD. What loving parent hasn’t inadvertently enabled their child because they wanted to take away their pain, only to later learn (or maybe not) that their actions have only made things worse? Because the proper way to deal with OCD involves going against our instincts, family members need to be educated.

It is my hope that the results of this study will lead to more awareness and better treatment for OCD, not only for those suffering from the disorder, but for those who care for and support them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to The Impact of Pediatric OCD on the Whole Family

  1. Oh, yes. So true. The whole family is affected. As parents, it is in our nature to attempt to ease our child’s suffering. But OCD is so tricky, it makes us think we are helping when we are only falling deeper into into its web. At this year’s OCD conference, I saw interesting research about a group devoted solely to helping parents disengage from the accommodation process. As a therapist, and as a mom, this is exciting to me. I just wish there were more for siblings!

    • That is so encouraging to hear, Angie! I wasn’t able to make it to the conference this year, so wasn’t aware of this. And I agree, we need to have something similar for siblings. Thanks for the info!

  2. bclaypolewhite says:

    Yup. And when I was active in a local support group for parents of OCD kids, I watched every marriage except mine and one other collapse and end in divorce.

    • It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? What a great point you bring up. Supporting and better educating parents in how to deal with OCD might not only help their child, it could possibly save their marriage as well. I appreciate your sharing.

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